In Which I Read: What Katy Did At School, Chapter One

Generally I allow myself to read one secular book at a time. Well, two really: one on the iPod and one in paper. I can be in the middle of as many other books as I like. I’m not going to post about the paper book chapter by chapter, because it’s just a collection of comedic essays, which get pretty boring to blog about. Anyway, This chapter made me… well, the ending made me laugh, so hard.
This book is a sequel to the book What Katy Did. If you want to know the main things that happened in that, see wikipedia. I’m just going to touch on it briefly: Katy is a tomboy growing up in 1860s…Ohio? At first she’s a tomboy, getting into all kinds of interesting situations. Then she gets into a too interesting situation and loses the use of her legs. And the interestingness of her character. I don’t know if this is still a theme in children’s literature, I’ve only noticed it recently, but in 1800s/1900s literature, a disabled character is always perfect, or nearly so. It’s like, a rule or something. (One also sees the bitter invalid, but rarely, and they’re always the bad guys, unless they reform. Into a Saint.) So, Katy went from being an interesting little girl to Saint Katy. Which was not a boring read. I enjoyed it enough I didn’t have to force myself to slog through the book. But after she transformed into Saint Katy, she got a little boring, and stories started focusing more on her siblings. Of which she has a ton because birth control hadn’t been invented yet.
At the end of the book, Katy does get the use of her legs back, but slowly. So, at this point in the sequel, she’s walking, but not very much.

As the sequel opens, Katy is sitting down on a couch receiving visitors. Mrs. Worret is a friend of the family, and the author goes out of her way to tell us how very very fat she is. Nevertheless, Katy treats her kindly, because, unlike some fat characters in children’s novels that the author repeatedly tells us are fat, Mrs. Worrett is a kind woman. She doesn’t always understand things, but her heart is in the right place.

Mrs. Worret issues an invitation for Johny and Elsie, two of Katy’s sisters (no, that’s not a typo. Johnny is a girl, it’s short for Joanna) to visit her out in the country. Elsie (whose constant whining in the last book reminded me of Elsie Dinsmore, read that at your own risk) begs to go, thinking that it will be cooler and so much fun. The father, Dr. Carr, tells her she wont’ enjoy it much and tells her she shouldn’t go, but Elsie begs, and is considered “willful” for doing this. Finally, Dr. Carr agrees, saying that, though they are invited to stay a week, he will let them try it for 3 days, see how they like it, and take them away if they don’t.

So off Johnny and Elsie go. And, like any adjustment, they have problems. The country is not the city. Are they living in a city? or was it a town? Whatever. Elsie immediately falls ill because… it’s not quite clear why. Lack of sleep is given as a reason (it’s hot and her windowshade bangs) but she starts getting sick even before that, so that’s not the only reason.

Mrs. Worrett is somehow convinced that Johnny loves to chase chickens. I’m not sure how old Johnny and Elsie are at this point. My guess is that Johnny can be no more than ten. I think most ten year olds have outgrown chicken chasing, but I digress. Johnny is too polite to tell Mrs. Worrett that she does not enjoy chasing chickens, and even if she did, it’s way too hot for running.

Elsie gets sicker, and tries to lie on the couch, but it’s a narrow, slippery couch and she keeps falling off. Which makes no sense, because, I’ve never seen a kid fall off a couch, no matter how narrow. Or slippery. In fact, children are small. If a couch was that small, an adult couldn’t use it comfortably. Elsie is apparently just talented at falling off couches.

Finally, after 3 days, her father’s hired man (slave? It’s not clear. This was published in the 1870s, so after slavery had ended, but meant to take place sometime in the 1860s. I’m not sure if the civil war has happened in universe, or if there even was ever any slavery in Ohio, so… nevermind.) comes to take her away, and Elsie is overjoyed.

When she and Johnny get back, the family all laughs at her misfortune, which I don’t get, since nothing THAT funny happened, and anyway, Elsie is sick. And in 1860, sickness was nothing to laugh about. If someone got so much as a head cold, everyone got concerned, because it could mean something serious was happening, and most medicines hadn’t been invented yet.

Everybody laughs at the poor girls, except Saint Katy, who notes that Elsie feels hot, and says that Dr. Pappa should give her something. And….I’m not sure how to make of this next sentence:

Papa gave Elsie “something” before she went to bed,— a very mild dose I fancy; for doctors’ little girls, as a general rule, do not take medicine,

(I’m still fuzzy about how to put things into quotes on wordpress…. bear with me.)
Really? I have never heard this. I would think that doctors’ little girls take lots and lots of medicine. There’s a saying that  “a doctor is his own worst patient,” but I don’t know any doctor, especially back in the 1860s, for whom that was true of his children. It’s easier to imagine a doctor-parent being overzealous than under.

And what if one of his children did get seriously sick? Would there be medicine then? What about when little girls get sick with something very mild, and it turns from mild into full blown illness because they don’t get medicine? Did this author actually have any children? *checks* no she did not. The siblings in this book were based on her siblings, with Katy being a Mary-Sue insert for herself. (I’ll write about the Mary Sue character next week, or you could just, you know, google it.)

But we all know that having younger siblings is not the same thing as having children. You can only get so much of how to be/understand a parent without being one yourself. So, I don’t think I trust the author on this one. (I think that, from now on, I’m going to look up to see whether an author did or did not have children before I read the books: it really does affect how I read books, at least prior to around 1980sish shen child psychology became more popular.)

Moving on to the next interesting part.

and many and many a time, “It will end like your visit to Mrs. Worrett,” proved a useful check when Elsie was in a self-willed mood and bent on some scheme which for the moment struck her as delightful. For one of the good things about our childish mistakes is, that each one teaches us something; and so, blundering on, we grow wiser, till, when the time comes, we are ready to take our places among the wonderful grown-up people who never make mistakes.

Sigh. Where do I start?

1. Children do not learn from their mistakes. Any parent knows this. Maybe some children learn a lesson after one time, but most do not. I could actually see darling little Elsie here in an argument with Dr. Pappa, going, “but this will different!” In a high pitched whiny voice. This technique of constantly bringing up the visit to Mrs. Worrett’s never would have worked, at least, not with a normal child.

2. Wonderful grown up people who never make mistakes? Does Miss. Woolsey live in some kind of fantasy world? Grown up people who never make mistakes? Where is this wonderful world of grown up people who never make mistakes, and, more importantly, how do I get there?

I’m go glad I read this chapter when I did. It gave me a good laugh. If I hadn’t been lying down, I would’ve fallen over and died from laughing.

wonderful grown up people who never make mistakes. Woooooooow. What a message to send to that generation of children. My kids are going to get a talk about that if they ever read this book.


Help Me


2 thoughts on “In Which I Read: What Katy Did At School, Chapter One

    • Rachael- that’s the sequel to What Katy Did At School. I like to read books in orders, so that one will be coming up next, when I’m done with this one. He rest in the series will probably follow 🙂 yay! Someone whi’s read the same book! I think you and I are the only ones reading this who have.

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